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The First Law of Darwin Lobbying and the Second Law of Thermodynamics

A few years back I had a friendly lunch conversation with Wesley Elsberry, a longtime activist for Darwin and former staff member at the National Center for Science Education. During the conversation, I said it seems unfair that the Darwin lobby alleges that intelligent design (ID) proponents don’t publish in the mainstream scientific literature (an untrue charge), but then those same ID critics simultaneously work hard to prevent ID proponents from publishing in the mainstream scientific literature. It seems like the first rule for many Darwin lobbyists is this: ‘stifle academic freedom for dissenting scientists at any cost, but don’t invite real scientific dialogue over these issues.’  If I recall correctly, Wesley did not confirm or deny my accusations that Darwin lobbyists have sought to prevent ID proponents from publishing. Now we have proof positive–from Wesley himself–that the Darwin lobby engages in this repugnant tactic.

As John West has reported, the journal Applied Mathematics Letters has agreed to apologize after pulling a paper by University of Texas, El Paso mathematics professor Granville Sewell which was critical of Darwinian evolution. Sewell is author of In the Beginning: And Other Essays on Intelligent Design as well as three books on numerical analysis and dozens of articles in respected journals. As West reports, Applied Mathematics Letters withdrew his paper not because it found any errors in the paper, or because the paper was not peer-reviewed, but because it had received a protest from the Darwin lobby. Because of the journal’s inappropriate treatment of Dr. Sewell, it has now issued an apology to Dr. Sewell and paid his attorney’s fees in the matter to the tune of $10,000.

As further evidence of the journal’s misconduct, before Applied Mathematics Letters even notified Granville Sewell that his paper had been withdrawn, the journal told Darwin lobbyists about the withdrawal–activists who then went out and broke the story.  Thus, before Sewell even knew his paper had been withdrawn, one of the first persons to report this act of censorship was Wesley Elsberry–and he reported it gleefully, quite proud that his faction had successfully prevented the publication of a scientific paper that was critical of Darwinian evolution. In a post titled “A Journal Imposes Order, Rejects High Entropy Submission,” Elsberry crowed about how his faction was able to prevent the publication of Sewell’s paper:

So what can one make of a recent attempt to publish a batch of 2LoT religious antievolution as if it were a genuine scientific contribution? E. Granville Sewell, a mathematician at the University of Texas at El Paso and “intelligent design” creationism (IDC) advocate, submitted a manuscript to Applied Mathematical Letters (AML) titled, “A second look at the second law”. AML apparently indicated acceptance of the manuscript to Sewell, leading to gloating on an IDC blog. That in turn led to action by David vun Kannon from the “After the Bar Closes” forum, who wrote the editors at AML to point out the problem. AML responded to vun Kannon, saying that they were withdrawing the manuscript.

Now at this point, keep in mind Sewell’s paper had already successfully gone all the way through the peer-review process, had been accepted into the journal, and in fact was even available here online for purchase at the Applied Mathematics Letters website at the time the article was withdrawn. But then it was pulled. You can see an archived PDF of the article’s page on the journal’s website here.

So there you have it–we knew it was going on before, but this is just more evidence that the Darwin lobby is seeking to stifle the publication of ID-friendly scientific papers. What’s most disconcerting is not just that Elsberry and his colleagues are doing this, but that they are quite proud of it.

Elsberry and his colleagues are welcome to disagree with Sewell’s arguments. But if you really care about academic freedom and scientific inquiry, the appropriate response is to post some critique, perhaps even publishing it in a journal.  They are welcome to do this, and this they did.  But they also responded by trying to stifle scientific debate and prevent the paper from seeing the light of day.

I already know that Sewell would love to have this debate in the journals. But having a real scientific debate is the last thing the Darwin lobby wants.  Of course, die-hard Darwin-defenders typically argue that there are no scientific issues worth debating about Darwinian evolution. Sewell’s case is no exception. They claim that Sewell is merely offering a long-debunked argument about the second law of thermodynamics and evolution. But he’s not.

About Granville Sewell’s Paper

There’s an old unsophisticated argument against Darwinian evolution that goes something like this: The second law of thermodynamics holds that entropy/disorder always increases. Darwinian evolution holds that entropy/disorder has decreased. Therefore, Darwinian evolution violates the second law of thermodynamics.

Aside from the fact that Darwinian evolution doesn’t always require an ‘increase in order,’ the problem with the argument, of course, is that there’s more to the second law than the mere claim that entropy/disorder always increases. Entropy/disorder can decrease under certain circumstances when energy is input from outside the system. Thus, the second law actually holds that thermodynamic entropy/disorder will increase in a closed system. Since the Earth is not a closed system–for example it receives light and other energy from the Sun–the second law of thermodynamics is not a valid reason that Darwinian evolution is false. If Darwinian evolution is false, it has to do with something other than the second law of thermodynamics.

Though the argument against evolution from the second law–as it has been classically stated–is flawed, it does stem from the intuition that there’s something about life’s complexity that doesn’t result from unguided, unintelligent natural processes. William Dembski saw value in that intuition, and formulated a new argument. Darwinian evolution didn’t merely claim to decrease entropy. Life maintains order because it contains information. Darwinian evolution claimed to increase information–or as Dembski showed, a certain type of information called complex and specified information (CSI). But Dembski and many other ID proponents argue that natural processes alone don’t create new complex and specified information. Thus, Dembski formulated a stronger argument which he calls the “fourth law of thermodynamics,” or a law of conservation of information. Dembski explains this principle, and why it supersedes arguments from the second law of thermodynamics:

The Law of Conservation of Information or, equivalently, the Fourth Law of Thermodynamics attempts to understand a deep problem in thermodynamics and information theory. An intuitive way to think about the problem is in terms of two CDs, one with random bits and the other with the latest Microsoft Windows operating system. From the vantage of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, these CDs are indistinguishable. And yet informationally they are very different. The underlying problem here goes back to Maxwell and his famous demon, in which the Second Law of Thermodynamics could be reversed given an appropriate information source. The Law of Conservation of Information attempts to come to grips with such information sources.

Dr. Sewell is fully aware of objections made to the classical (and flawed) version of the second law of thermodynamics argument, and that’s why he is not offering the classical (and unsophisticated) version of the argument. In particular, Sewell accepts as true the observation that entropy/disorder can decrease when energy is input from outside the system–but he argues that this fact is only relevant when that which is being inputted tends to create the type of order we’re seeking to increase.  In fact, he makes an argument somewhat parallel to Dembski’s in his book In the Beginning:

Natural forces may turn a spaceship into a pile of rubble, but not vice-versa–not because the exact arrangement of atoms in a given spaceship is more improbable than the exact arrangement of atoms in a given pile of rubble, but because (whether the Earth receives energy from the Sun or not) there are very few arrangements of atoms which would be able to fly to the moon and return safely, and very many which could not.  The reader familiar with William Dembski’s “specified complexity” concept [Dembski 2006], will recognize similarities to the argument here: natural forces do not do things which are “specified” (macroscopically describable) and “complex” (extremely improbable). Both are just attempts to state in more “scientific” terms what is already obvious to the layman, that unintelligent forces cannot do intelligent things.

(Granville Sewell, In the Beginning and Other Essays on Intelligent Design, p. 72 (Discovery Institute Press, 2010).)

In the peer-reviewed article he wrote for Applied Mathematics Letters, Sewell argued that the basic principles underlying the second law of thermodynamics, when properly applied, might be a bar to Darwinian evolution after all. I’ll further discuss Sewell’s thesis in a second article later this week.


Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



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